To Pay Attention, the Brain Uses Filters, Not a Spotlight | Quanta Magazine
Neuroscientists are now also looking at the basal ganglia region of the brain, commonly associated with motor control, apart from reward-based learning and decision making.
The new frontiers of this study include the brain’s attention, action cues and even the elusive subject of consciousness.
The brain, it seems, is interlinked and interconnected in many ways yet to be understood.
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When Ivan Pavlov and his dogs led to the discovery of learned behaviour through repeated exposure, and Edward Thorndike discovered the Law of Effect that stated that rewarded behaviours tended to increase, many psychologists were impelled to separate psychology from armchair introspection and formulated their theories as mathematical formulas.
Donald Hebb realised that existing theories were too focused on reacting to the immediate environment. Thoughts, ideas and goals could be just as strong for triggering action as sights and sounds.
Together with John Atkinson, they noted that the study of motivation had undergone a "paradigm shift", where motivation couldn't be seen as how actions get started, but how the organism decides to change its behaviour from one thing to another.
As people get older, they often lose their motivation to learn new things. This get-up-and-go attitude is vital for our social well-being and learning.
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Many mental health disorders can skew the ability to evaluate the cost and rewards of an action, such as anxiety and depression.
A depressed person may undervalue potentially rewarding experiences.
Neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining cost and reward motivation.
Researchers are working on possible drug treatments that could stimulate this circuit. They suggest that training patients to enhance activity in this circuit through biofeedback could offer another potential way to improve their cost-benefit evaluations.